Driving Instructor Tips


How students behave during a driving lesson

Driving Instructor would be a perfect job - without the students, I like to joke. Dealing with people all day is very demanding. The constant flow of different personalities: moody, quiet and rigid one lesson, outgoing, noisy and talkative the next, can be very draining.

Why is it that some pupils answer the door, then go back inside to put their shoes on? Others are waiting on the footpath, even in light rain, eagerly anticipating their driving lesson?

One student says ‘sorry’ every time he or she makes a mistake, whilst another questions everything to the point of arguing. The following article looks at the four basic personality types and what to expect from each during a driving lesson.

The Thinker (Melancholic type)

Before meeting William you knew he had a melancholic personality. He had booked in for five double lessons in the first week. He tells you he wants to learn properly, which means he expects perfection. At the posh school William attended, they showed car-crash videos. The graphics affected William to the point that he took five years to find the courage to enrol in driving lessons.

Teach him to apply the handbrake firmly and you will have trouble releasing it afterwards. A thinker type does not waste many words. To lighten the conversation you ask if he plays sport. After a long silence (as if you had asked him about the meaning of life) his answer is a typical ‘one word says it all’: ‘Tennis’.

Being a logical thinker it is best to explain things methodically to William. His exact mind will love 'pull-push steering', the 'System of Car Control' or the 'Moving-off' procedures. His parallel parking is spot on. Traffic situations which involve judgment (lane changing, turning onto a busy road, etc) take him longer to learn. Judgment cannot be learned with a formula. Forever analyzing and striving to get it right, hinders William's decision making and slows his progress. Because melancholic people are quiet and give the appearance of being upset, instructors often try to cheer them up, quiet unnecessarily.

Despite his lack of feedback William's computer brain has stored the information given. He will make a good no-nonsense driver. A lesson with William seems to drag on, the instructor getting tired of hearing his own voice. Don’t let this stress you, our next pupil is charming Jane.

The Actor/Actress (Sanguine type)

Jane’s easy-going, talkative personality has gained her many friends. She had plenty of driving experience with them and won’t usually need many lessons. She grasps concepts quickly but can’t be bothered with detail. During a lesson she might spot a friend driving or walking nearby. This gets her all excited and she will try to get their attention. Being a people person, a sanguine loves being on stage.

A bus stop full of waiting passengers, cars at lights or even just a pedestrian provide a ready audience. Suddenly the windscreen wipers start operating in bright sunshine, indicators flash right, then left, then right again (How do I turn them off??) The accidental tap on the horn gets heads turning in our direction.

What fun we are having! Jane just brushes it off in her happy-go-lucky style, while the instructor feels like tearing his/her hair out. Just join in the laughter. No lecture about the dry windscreen ruining the wiper blades. Why spoil the fun?

When the show is over, Jane will charm the instructor with praise for the expert tuition given so patiently (and how we love to hear it). Lessons with the Janes in this world are seldom boring and time goes fast. She will be one of those surprising you with a little kiss on the cheek after she has passed her test.

The Goer (Choleric type)

Jim’s focused, confident approach is a real challenge to the instructor, who may have trouble keeping up with Jim’s pace. Before the instructor has time to outline the lesson, Jim has already completed the cabdrill and is asking , where do you want me to go? This confidence can be misinterpreted as cockiness. It is off-putting to some instructors.

Jim, in his quest for knowledge asks lots of questions. He may even argue on some points. The instructor wonders, who is teaching who? Keep the goer on the go. Jim hates just driving around and gets bored easily. Invent challenges such as:

His competitive nature makes him excel. There is a tendency to pick on the slightest fault to counteract Jim’s overconfidence. Deep down you will find he is rather touchy and gets easily discouraged.

Driving too fast is one flaw in his behaviour. He is goal-oriented and tends to take risks. These attributes make him a top achiever at school, but on the road he has to learn to keep things under control. An instructor has to be patient with Jim’s impatience. The focus should stay on Jim’s good points. In time Jim will slow down and form a more realistic view of his abilities or lack thereof. Or last customer, Clare, will bring us back to a slower pace.

The Peacemaker (Phlegmatic-type)

As a child Clare was very quiet, causing no trouble and is always eager to please. Her gentle, peace loving nature hates being under any kind of pressure. She has a controlled, even temper and even if the instructor raises his or her voice Clare does not seem to be moved. Ask her, if she finds it hard to make decisions, she’ll reply: 'Yes and no.' Clare is content being led by her instructor, who must be careful not to stay equally content to just tell her what to do and when to do it. This may avoid stress on both, but progress will be very slow.

Where Jim, the goer, had to learn that the accelerator can get him into big trouble, Clare needs to experience that speed can also get her out of trouble. Staying calm, when a truck behind only avoided a smash by braking sharply, is ignorant bliss. Waiting behind a parked bus may show great patience, but what if the driver is having his lunch? It is a delicate balancing act between pushing her to progress and to just let her learn at her own pace.

Any ambition an instructor has to teach someone in record-braking time should not be attempted with a phlegmatic student. It may turn them off completely. Clare will never develop into a racing car driver. Yet, her steadfast, dependable character should keep her crash-free for many years.


Very few people are pure Williams, Janes, Jims or Clares. Most of us have a mixture of two or three personalities. Other factors influencing behaviour need be considered: self- image, upbringing, environment etc.

To assume that a learner operating the windscreen wipers by accident is an actor-type in wrong. (He or she may be used to driving the family BMW). But equal folly would be to treat a thinker-type like an actor or to try to push peacemakers beyond their comfort zone. A skilful instructor knows his own personality and that of his pupil and adjusts his/her teaching accordingly.


Aversion Therapy

(Does showing horror crashes make a better driver?)

The handsome looking young man in his early twenties in the driver’s seat appeared nervous. Nothing unusual when learning to drive. I asked the usual question: "Have you ever been involved in a crash or had a bad experience as a cyclist, passenger or pedestrian?” Many times I get an affirmative answer, which explains a learners apprehension.

In this case, however, he was quite sure there was no incident he can remember. After probing a little deeper, I discovered the reason for his apparent fear. It is an over-reaction to ‘Aversion Therapy’. I did not know this term, until listening to a radio program. I learned it is a psychological technique, where, in the case of novice drivers, they are shown videos of car crashes: Blood, twisted metal, ambulances, severed limbs etc. A visiting policeman presents this as part of a ‘road safety program’. A young person in a wheelchair may also attend, driving the message even deeper.

The message is: Do stupid things with this weapon and this is the result.
I question the road safety value of Aversion Therapy. A certain personality type, those that take things to heart, may develop a fear, that can get blown out of all proportions. The aversion to driving may be so great, that they take years to even have the courage to book a driving lesson.

From a driving instructors point of view, I prefer students that have a healthy respect for the danger of a motor vehicle. The shock of watching a young person, helplessly imprisoned in a wheelchair does this very well. But nothing will replace learning low-risk techniques, which together with a healthy attitude by parents, will put safe, confident drivers on the road.

Fatal crashes are a regular feature on the news; is that not enough warning?

A child learning to swim, also learns water safety. Would showing a graphic video of a person drowning produce a better swimmer - or merely one that is afraid of water?


Treat Your Students Like VIP's

(How to build confidence in your students)

Apart from the medical profession and the clergy there is probably no occupation that requires more people skills than that of a driving instructor. Getting on with nervous clients and building their confidence in themselves and in you as mentor requires patience. Here are some principles that will make your clients feel, that they are important to you.

All of us want to be treated with respect. Learn every client's name, even if its long, foreign, hard to pronounce or all of the above. Everyone loves the sound of their own name. Never make fun of it, which belittles a person. What’s more, it’s frustrating, because no diet or exercise program can improve the situation.

If you're late for a lesson, apologize and/or phone the student. It makes them feel that their time is important too. Should the need arise to extent their lesson, ask the pupil first. They may have an appointment to attend to. Extra time at no charge may not be appreciated on every occasion.

Affirm your student. Try to correct mistakes in a positive manner.

For example, after waiting for a considerable time at a roundabout, traffic behind is building up. Finally you order: ‘go, now!' But he/she hesitates and waits again unnecessarily, frustrating for the most patient of instructors. The student explains: 'I thought the car was turning into our direction'. To affirm the student just say: ‘Yes, it looked that way, but it would have been OK to go.’

Don’t overrule a person’s wishes or feelings. Some instructors pride themselves in taking a novice into very heavy traffic or up to high speed. If a persons expresses the wish not to drive onto the main road in peak traffic, respect their concern: "You still feel you are not ready. OK then, maybe next lesson." Very slow, nervous learners need constant affirmation, despite their lack of apparent progress.

Never compare one student with another, everyone is unique. Slow learners sharpen an instructors skills and challenges to creativity. What’s more, the person beside you may be a very high achiever in his/her field of expertise - a writer perhaps or a member of the under 18’s National Youth Soccer squad. You may not even know.

Record every student’s progress and other data. This saves a lot of needless repetition. To ask a pupil at the beginning of the lesson: "What did I teach you last week?" is not very professional. Every driving school or instructor must have a system of recording data, not only the about a pupil's progress, but personal information. To wish a student "Happy Birthday" (you took note of the date) or to remind him/her that the permit needs renewing in two days, shows that you take interest in the customer.

A little chat relaxes, emphasis on little! Stick to safe subjects, their new car, sport, cooking, school work, holidays. Talk about their interests. Try to be natural. Social talk should never replace solid teaching. Pupils may enjoy the conversations, but resent later if the main purpose of your weekly outings, learning to drive, is neglected.

Never make fun of a question. There is no such thing as a wrong question. Be glad, when customers do ask, because it helps you to assess their way of thinking.

Recognize little victories. Give praise about an achievement, when difficult tasks have finally been mastered. It can become very discouraging, when an instructor constantly focuses on wrong behaviour,

Ten behaviours to avoid:

  1. Eating, drinking (especially alcohol) during a lesson.
  2. Smoking or offering a cigarette to clients.
  3. Using bad language*, telling crude jokes or compromising stories.
  4. Pushing any ideology or off-loading the instructors problems onto the customer.
  5. Flirting, suggestive remarks, even in a joking manner.
  6. Unreasonable involvement in pupils private affairs, unless asked for.
  7. Giving advice, other than driving tuition, unless specifically requested.
  8. Taking gifts, that may be interpreted as a bribe.
  9. Changing lessons for no reason or not turning up without phoning.
  10. Conducting private business, if unavoidable, explain and make up the time.

* Never swear at another road user or sound the horn angrily during a lesson, no matter what. This mild form of road rage may lead to a more serious incident. If you stay calm your pupil will. Your (good or bad) example will be accepted as the norm.

Every good businessman knows that keeping a customer happy is also to his own benefit. If you lose too many customers for no apparent reason, examine your style. It may only be one wrong word you said, a negative attitude or a small favour you did not bother with, that upset the client.

Treat everyone like a VIP, always encouraging, recognizing achievements. Don’t be surprised, when your customers recommend you to their friends.